Remember my first post, ‘What I’ve Learnt During the First Year of my PhD’? Well, apparently I forgot everything I learnt last year and got a case of the second year blues. The nice tip I gave of learning to say no did not feel like an option to me this year, and it has been a difficult year so far. So difficult, I haven’t even had time to post on this blog!
I took on more teaching this year, which meant more students emailing me and needing my support. I had two research assistant jobs, I’m the PGR Rep for Law, I joined a research committee and I have helped other members of staff in other ways. And whilst I have enjoyed everything I have done and appreciated all of the opportunities handed to me, my PhD has not.
It is really easy to put off your PhD when you have other work. Your PhD deadline seems so far away that it makes sense to do the things which ‘need’ doing and to put off any writing, reading, analysis, etc.
Not only did it seem as though my sanity was so far away I couldn’t see it, but so did the end of the PhD. For the first time since I started the thesis I was panicking I would not complete.
Now, this is all very dramatic and I realise this. Trust me, I realised this quite quickly when I had a breakdown one night trying to make cakes for a bake sale at uni. Luckily my best friend was there to sit me down with a cup of tea and take over the task (for which she is much better suited than I!). But for us PhDers, this panic is very real. We are perfectionist and failure is not an option. So when a little bit of doubt creeps into your mind that you won’t complete, panic takes over and reason disappears.
At the moment, depression in academia is all over the media, and it is a very serious issue in our profession. I am not saying I got depressed, but I was severely stressed and potentially heading that way. I was losing sleep, I was irritable with people close to me and I even cried in my office one day (for which I felt very embarrassed!) . I knew things had to change, otherwise I was going to start hating my PhD, instead of loving it as much as I did last year. Here is what I did to handle the drowning feeling:
I Started Yoga
And I bloody love it! It is the one time a week I completely switch off from work and a lovely woman, named Sandra from the Business School, puts me in the ultimate state of relaxation. All of the tensions from the day float away and my stress is no where near as bad. Now, whenever I start to feel panic, I do some of the breathing exercises and calm myself down. My work has definitely improved since I started yoga, and life does not seem as stressful!
I Spoke To My PhD Supervisor
This was a scary one. I don’t like to appear vulnerable or weak to people. I often get called a ‘beast’ in our office for how much work I produce and I didn’t want to lose this title. I also didn’t want my supervisor to think that I couldn’t handle my work and that she had made a mistake. However, it got to the point where I knew I had to tell her I was struggling and I was falling a bit behind. It was the best thing I have done. She was so supportive. We made a new plan of how my PhD would go for the rest of the year. We agreed I will not be teaching next year, I will not be PGR Rep and I will limit any work I do for other members of staff. Basically, I have a year devoted to my PhD. She also reminded me that I have done a lot of work this year. I now have all of my data, which I have started ‘to clean’, as she puts it. I have developed my CV massively and I have started to write up my thesis. Whilst I am not as far forward as I thought I would be, I am also not that far behind and I needed to stop panicking. Have I mentioned how much I love my supervisor?!
I Accepted Things As They Are.
So I didn’t get any funding for my fieldwork and got rejected for every grant I applied for. I didn’t get published as easily and had harsh reviews. Boo hoo. The trick to moving forward is picking yourself up when you’re down. So what if I had to pay for my own fieldwork and work a little harder for my publications. I did those things, and the struggle has made me stronger. That academic thick skin has definitely gotten thicker and I feel better for it.
I Have Learnt To Say No
Okay… maybe not to everything. But I am definitely becoming a lot more comfortable saying no to things. Two nights before I flew to Poland for my fieldwork I was lumped with marking. For the first time since I started I felt able to say ‘sorry, but I don’t have time to do them all. I’ll see how I get on, but someone else will have to do the rest.’ The reality was no one else could and they were on my desk for when I got back, but hey I was assertive at the start! I have turned down other bits of work for people, confidently saying ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have the time.’ I think PhD students can feel a bit of imposter syndrome when saying they are stressed or don’t have time to the people above them. I thought everyone would scoff and say I didn’t know what stress is. In reality, my colleagues and superiors are very supportive and understanding. They know if I say no, then I really don’t have the time. I still have a little work to do in this department, which is a running joke between my supervisor and I, but I’m getting there.
This year has been hard so far. It is the first time I really felt like I could fail at this task. If you feel like this, you need to reassess and push through those second year blues. It does get easier. Talk to people, take time to relax and manage workload better. Also, take time to remember your achievements. We are very quick to acknowledge our failures, but not so ready to appreciate our successes, no matter how small. As they say, if this was easy then everyone would have a PhD. It is called a journey for a reason and it is not always an easy one. It is how you get through that matters.